The Exhibition Grey at Harrington Mill Studios, curated by David Manley includes work by Chris Wright, Rachael Pinks, Dee Shiels, David Ainley, Kevin Coyne, Patrick Prentice, Steffi Richards, Joe Kelly, Paul Warren, Clay Smith, Sarah R Key, Lisa Denyer, Susan Disley, David Manley, Michael Finn, Louise Garland, Rob Van Beek, Shiela Ravnkilde, Jackie Berridge, Alison Whitmore, Kate Smith, Michelle Keegan, Simon Marchini, Beth Shapeero, Paul Crook, Fi Burke, Hayley Lock, Andy Parkinson, Helen Stevenson, Maggie Milner, Kate Smith, Tracey Eastham, Mik Godley, Flore Gardner and Justine Nettleton, very different kinds of work in different mediums: performance, text, sculpture, drawing and painting.
The theme for the show was inspired by a painting, in Manley’s collection, by Michael Finn, entitled Grey Blue. In the gallery notes Manley writes “it got me thinking…wouldn’t it be nice to ask HMS associated artists…to reflect, in whatever way they choose, on the colour grey?” The exhibition is a result of their responses, shown alongside the Finn.
I am intrigued by the multiple ways that the Finn painting presents itself, due in part to different lighting (physical factors) and in part to the subjective participation of the viewer (psychological factors). The appearance at first sight is of a grey ground upon which a darker grey frame is hastily drawn, echoing the vertical edges of the support. On continued viewing, the nuances of the coloured ground come to awareness. Colours shift and change, violet now uppermost, only to be succeeded by other colours: green, blue, red, ochre etc. This variability is a function of the process of layering one colour over another, resulting in a mixture surely more optical than physical.
It is difficult to photograph, the auto-focus in my camera cannot work out what to do, and though I switch to manual and manipulate the resultant, under-exposed image afterwards in photo-shop, I acknowledge that the snap hardly does justice to what I am actually seeing.
I think it is the case with many of the paintings here, including my own, that they almost defy being photographed, and it is certainly the case with David Ainley‘s Hidden Shafts: Grey, what you see in the reproduction hardly reproduces what can be seen in the work itself, and this is generally my experience of viewing paintings by Ainley compared with seeing photographs of them. Could it be that the paintings are much slower than photography allows? Standing in front of Hidden Shafts I am quite prepared to put in the the time that viewing requires and it is then that some of its hidden properties are revealed, layers of events becoming visible through the very process of being covered, like a stain that cannot be painted over.
The tiny painting/collage here by Rachael Pinks, entitled Tales of Ancient Pain, only just grey, more black, white and blue, lots of blue, prompting, for me, sea and sky associations, includes along the top edge, a scrap of text torn from a book. If I had brought my glasses with me I might be able to determine whether that fragment of text is the source of the title.
The text, the title, and the seascape associations trigger for me a search for narrative, whether found in imagined content, perhaps a storm or a shipwreck, or in the process of assembling an image form torn paper, a narrative of sorts, perhaps a “process narrative”. I am especially interested in this narrative that is embedded in the act of making, and I think I find something of this also in David Ainley’s work as well as in Sarah R Key‘s.
I wrote briefly about Key’s painting An Equivalent Other, at Constructed Realities, wondering whether it might contain “some hidden or mysterious narrative”. The cluster of triangles becomes a depicted object, almost box like, with what could be opening tabs that create hints of a dimensionality, all against a dark ground that refuses to provide a context. The lighter blue/grey triangles at top, bottom and right can also be read as negative spaces, or a window through which two triangles one green, one violet, can be seen, if ‘floating’ in space they are anchored at edge or corner, so they never quite ‘escape’ to any place beyond this configuration. Even in describing the action I am doing so in terms of a narrative, again of sorts.
Whereas for many abstract artists geometry suggests rationality, with Key I almost want to say that her geometry denotes the opposite, though I realise that this is entirely interpretive on my part and it could simply be that I am inventing a link between her abstract work (she would say “for want of a better term”), and some of her more figurative paintings, (and again one could say “for want of a better term”). What I think I find in Key’s work is a challenging of the distinction. Rather than the polar opposites of either/or, black and white, we get both/and: shades of grey.
Grey, continues at Harrington Mill Studios until 28 November